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Something old: St. Andrews; Something new: Tiger's problems and the British press

Tiger Woods speaks at a press conference at

Tiger Woods speaks at a press conference at the end of his second round of The JP McManus Invitational Pro-Am. (July 6, 2010) Credit: Getty Images

The Old Course at St. Andrews has withstood all the new developments in golf, such as the Titanium driver and the switch from a 22-hole course to 18. The latter came a little earlier than the former and it took root at St. Andrews in 1764, with the rest of golfdom having followed ever since.

It is known for being the birthplace of golf and for never going out of style.

For modern pros, this iconic Scottish layout is still the most relevant venue in major championships, even though, during tournament week, townspeople walk up and down the fairways in the evening and all day on Sunday. St. Andrews is, after all, their town park.

When the British Open returns to its most famous and familiar home this week, the venerable ground will meet up with current events: specifically, the Tiger Woods saga. The first and last question at the 150th British Open will be whether Woods' discordant game can get back in tune at a course that is more comfortable for him than his own shoes.

People expected him to find his stride last month during the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, another of his favorite spots. That did not happen. But even that course doesn't rank as highly in his heart as the Old Course. When he was asked at Pebble Beach to name the perfect set of venues for him to win the Grand Slam, Woods said, "St. Andrews, all four times."

Woods fell in love with the course the first time he played it and has had no reason to change his opinion. He is two-for-two as a professional in Opens at St. Andrews, having won by eight strokes in 2000 and five in 2005.

"To win at the home of golf, that would be what every champion wants to have happen," he said this week at the JP McManus Invitational pro-am in Ireland. "This is where it all started. To walk up the last hole . . . I've had that [feeling] at other championships, but this is different."

The whole scene could be different for him this time, though. There is no guarantee that St. Andrews will be a refuge from the aftermath of his personal scandal and reports about the divorce settlement with his wife Elin Nordegren. At Pebble Beach, he snuffed out inquiries with one pre-tournament comment: "That's none of your business."

This week could have unforeseen obstacles, as stealthy as the pot bunkers at St. Andrews. The British media might ask the most insistent questions he has ever heard. After the pro-am in Ireland, he was asked if his extramarital affairs had been "worth it," given the disarray in his life and game. Woods responded with a terse, "I think you are reading too much into this." After a follow-up question, he replied with an even more terse, "Thank you."

The account in London's Daily Telegraph said, "For those hoping for the humility he had promised to show, this was a dispiriting reversion to type." On the other hand, a dispatch in The Scotsman described the crowd's reaction to Woods as "a rapturous response."

Whether his week will be dispirited or rapturous will be the first of many issues. Here are some others: Can Phil Mickelson conform his soaring ball flight and putting stroke to links golf? How will U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell look in his victory lap? What can Tom Watson do as an encore to his near-miracle finish at the 2009 British Open? Who is that fellow returning the claret jug? Stewart Cink is among the most overlooked champions since Paul Lawrie.

After a century-and-a-half, you do have to expect some changes. The most notable this year is a new tee on the lengthened renowned Road Hole, No. 17 (40 yards longer than it used to be in the one bow to new millennium equipment technology).

Also, there will be a special commemorative four-hole team challenge Wednesday for former champions. Woods will play with Nick Faldo and Mark Calcavecchia; Watson will be teamed with Tom Weiskopf and Ernie Els; Cink will be with Ian Baker-Finch, Mark O'Meara and a fellow named Arnold Palmer.

That will be a new twist to celebrate the championship and Old Course that still are basically the same.

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